Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Artists respond to Trumpists' barbaric immigration policies

From the "13 Artists on: Immigration" article in today's New York Times Style Magazine: Art Spiegelman's "A Warm Welcome," 2015. CreditPortrait by Phil Penman. Artwork courtesy of the artist. 

Art Spiegelman ("Maus: A Survivor's Story") was one of the 13 artists asked by the NYT to respond to current U.S. immigration issues. An immigrant himself, he has a few things to say about his own experience, and the above illustration:

I first saw the Statue of Liberty in October 1950 while perched high on my father’s shoulders. My parents, survivors of Hitler’s death camps, had been granted immigration visas to the United States, and all the passengers were crowded on the foredeck of the Gripsholm as we approached the harbor. I was less than 3 years old when my father excitedly pointed at the giant lady standing in the water to welcome us to New York. I was suitably awed until we got closer and was disappointed to see that she was “just” a statue.
"Maus" was probably the first graphic novel I read, and it took me awhile to get to it. It was after I wandered into an exhibit of Spiegelman's work at the Rollins College Gallery in Winter Park, Fla. It was about a decade ago. I thought of graphic novels as bloated comic books. "Maus" taught me otherwise. Something about seeing the exhibition-size artwork arrayed around the gallery got to me. I know quite a bit about the Holocaust but something about Jews as mice -- and Nazis as cats -- got to me. I recommend it highly. The issues  echo down the years to 2018. It's tempting to equate any fascist behavior to the Nazis. But Trump's cruel, racist actions are happening right now in the U.S., not in 1943 Germany or Poland. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

We take a look at coal-fired arts projects

Coal has been on my mind lately. Not in my mind, but I wouldn't be surprised if our Republican geniuses in Congress plan to replace our precious bodily fluids with coal dust. That should open up a new market for a dying industry.

Coal mining has a long tradition in Wyoming. I don't want to see it disappear. I would like to see some creativity applied to the issue instead of fear-mongering. The state has been home to coal mines since its settlement by white folks. Many families have been sustained by miners hacking rock out of underground mines or scooping it up in strip mines. Many communities owe their existence to coal. Some of our museums celebrate what you could call the coal culture. Rock Springs just added a coal mural to the side of a building in its flourishing downtown.

Coal mural in downtown Rock Springs. Artist is Dan Toro.
Underground Rock Springs is honeycombed with old mines. Mines and miners' unions made this city. It's good to see it acknowledged on a mural, and there is probably more to come. The main building at Western Wyoming College celebrates coal, too, with its large exhibit of the dinosaurs that once roamed the area, Consider dinos pre-coal, before the earth swallowed them up, applied heat and pressure, and then surrendered it to men with picks and shovels. I've always been crazy about dinosaurs and wonder why they are not more celebrated in Wyoming.

For 25 years, I was tasked with helping arts projects get off the ground. I was paid to be creative. I was also paid to fill out a lot of paperwork and read hundreds of grants. It taught me about this state of the arts. Lots of creativity and creative people. You could call them creatives as Richard Florida most famously did. Creatives, however, rarely are seen in the wild and seem to thrive only in urban enclaves, places such as Willaimsburg in Brooklyn and RiNo in Denver. It's a surprise to many coasters when they find pockets of creativity in small places that have no catchy nicknames.

I was pleased to hear a story on Wyoming Public Radio about another very creative person in an out-of-the way place. Mosaic artist Rachel Sager returned to her hometown in western Pennsylvania mining country. She wanted to practice her art and help her town recover from doldrums caused by closing of its mines. So she did what any other creative person would do -- she bought a defunct coal mine and turned it into an arts destination. Actually, she bought a swath of property that also was the site of an abandoned coal operation. She reclaimed the walls of the ruins from decades of vines and weeds and thought that it  would be a great place to show off her mosaics. She also thought it was a great way to show off the work of other like-minded artists from around the world and, in the process, give her tiny town of Whitsett and economic shot in the arm. She called it The Ruins Project. Sager dubs herself "the forager mosaicist" for her love of using found materials in her artwork. She is classically trained in the techniques of andamento, so also teaches classes and invites other visiting artists to do the same. Summer is an especially lively time at The Ruins Project.

Mosaic by Rachel Sager from The Ruins Project

I don't know if Sager has ever visited Wyoming, but she certainly has found some influences there, as shown in the following:

"American Jackelope" by Rachel Sager
Not sure if I have ever seen a mosaic jackelope. I have seen them in the wild, of course, on nights when the full moon shines on the North Platte River Valley.

To bring this story back to Wyoming, I wonder about other coal-inspired projects. Do you know of any? Certainly there are some in Gillette. Hard to imagine creating an arts project out of an abandoned open-pit mine. But who knows? Wyoming artists have been tasked with tough jobs before, such as surviving as an artist. Who knows what brilliant coal-inspired things could happen.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Top three Republican governor candidates want to out-conservative each other

The three richest Republican gubernatorial candidates seem to think that Wyoming needs rescuing from a cabal of liberals. Did I miss something? For the past eight years we've had a Republican governor and the four other state elected officials. Conservatives increased their lopsided majority in 2016 as a new wave of Know Nothings swept into power on Donald Trump's coattails. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats two-to-one. Yet Republican candidates in 2018 seem to think we need to be more conservative, which is hard to fathom. It's like asking Trump to to be less of a loudmouth greedhead. It just can't be done.

Millionaire stock trader Foster Friess, the man who embodies the loathsome side of Teton County politics, looks ridiculous in his cowboy outfit. His pitch is even more ridiculous. In his TV ads, he promotes himself as a"conservative businessman "who wants to see that Wyoming remains a land of dreams for the next generation." Dream on, Wyomingites. With Republican policies, you can work three jobs for less than minimum wage while dreaming of life in a mansion with a mountain view. And golf! FF will create jobs by tapping into "clean and abundant energy resources (shot of oil well), cut down on wasteful spending and make sure Washington doesn't get in our way." Is he talking about Trump's Republican government? Or that guy Obama? Will businessman Friess be as efficient at running the state as Trump is running the country? It's too hard to go on, watching TV spot after TV spot. Bless you, mute button. Stephen Colbert summed up Friess's campaign in his segment "Profiles in Discourage:" https://youtu.be/vBmIoVOg1O0

He's only one of the conservatives who wants to make Wyoming more conservative. Mark Gordon actually looks pretty good in his cowboy duds although I'm getting a bit irked at his hay-pitching routine. Gordon is a rancher from Johnson County and our current state treasurer. In one of his spots, he says that he "will fight to get government out of the way." Do you know that, as governor, you are actually the head of the government? I guess it doesn't matter. Many R voters in this state see "government" as a dirty word. They must not drive on any gubment roads or depend on rangeland fire fighters when wildfires threaten their mountain homes. And I'm certain that none of the ranchers get U.S. Government grazing subsidies. Republicans hate government -- let's put them in charge. What could go wrong?

Conservative businessman Sam Galeotos is from Cheyenne. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone describe themselves as a liberal businessman. Not in Wyoming, anyway. Mr. Galeotos has been instrumental in lifting our downtown out of the doldrums -- I will give him that. His refrain is "get government out of the way of small business." Also: "Conservative ideas, fresh perspective." He's run many successful small to medium-sized technology businesses. He is big on tech, which is a hopeful sign. I wonder, though, how many college-educated tech people want to come to a state whose legislature continues its Stone Age policies of demonizing the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and science? They don't believe in funding education and Know Nothings continue to usurp power at our lone four-year state-funded university. We have tech businesses in Cheyenne. Many of those young employees are commuters from mostly-liberal northern Colorado, mainly Greeley and Fort Collins. And UW grads continue to flee the state after graduation. Where are those jobs and policies that will keep our young people in the state?

There are other Repubs in the race but they are not on TV, not yet. And there is a great Democratic Party candidate, Mary Throne, who is our best bet. I'm a Democrat and you probably expect me to be biased. I'm a liberal and I live here too. I matter, but none of the above-named Republicans seem to care. It's all about name recognition and the "R". And the money.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Next time you survive a heart attack, try to fine-tune the description

What action verb best describes a heart attack?

Most times, the past tense of have serves the purpose. Dad had a heart attack. That's so bland. You can "have" a heart attack, just as you can have a cup of coffee or a bad day. But it doesn't really get to the heart of the matter.  Something happens when you have a heart attack, something profound. The muscle that keeps you human stops working. It is an experience of a lifetime and, often, the last experience, your deathtime. It deserves a better description.

The heart attack should be the subject of the sentence. A heart attack killed father. A heart attack claimed his life. You can add an adverb: A heart attack almost killed father. Most of us survivors are fond of adverbs such as almost or nearly, Our lives depended on those adverbs. You could also stay with the action verbs and say something like this: Dad beat the reaper. Or, if you prefer, "Don't Fear the Reaper" with jangly guitars and cowbell, always more cowbell.

Heart attacks deserve better treatment, language-wise. They define what comes after, whether that be finality or life's new chapter. I was lucky and got the latter. I paid a price for neglecting the telltale signs. I wear an ICD in my chest wall that sends signals to a hospital monitoring station. I remain confident that Russian hackers will never find the frequency. But please alert me if I ever start saying nice things about Donald Trump.

My widowmaker heart attack on Jan. 2, 2013, nearly killed me. I lived. During my year of recovery, I went through rehab and ate right and exercised and continued not smoking (I quit in 1985). Some things I did not do. I did not read and entire novel. I wrote very little, although I blogged a bit about the widowmaker (links here and here). The experience took a piece of my heart, my soul. I never thought I would write fiction again. I told my wife Chris that I would never write another book, not even in retirement. She was having none of that. I started a novel the day after I retired in January 2016. I'm 30,000-some words into it. Hard work, this novel-writing biz. Better suited for a young man. Now I have experience but not the stamina. Life plays mean tricks. It entertains us with surprises.

How did the term "heart attack" get started? The heart does not attack. It protests. Dad ate too many Big Macs and his heart is mad as hell and is not going to take it anymore. Bam -- your heart seizes up like an engine low on life-giving 10W-40. My original diagnosis was Acute Myocardial Infarction accompanied by Congestive Heart Failure. I could also call it a Coronary Thrombosis. These terms aren't nearly as colorful as Heart Attack. That's what I will continue to say. And will continue to find better ways to describe that thing that disrupted but didn't end my life.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Cohort replacement is the only cure for Trumpism

It's an "age" thing.

In September 2016, just weeks before Trump's election, writer Chris Ladd in Forbes foretold the future. The article, "The Last Jim Crow Generation," spells out the roots of white anger that led us to this earthly paradise called Trumplandia. If you were a 70-year-old white man at the time of the election, you had led a mostly white life in the U.S. Here's a sample:
Like Donald Trump, white voters turning 70 this year had already reached adulthood in 1964, the year that the first Civil Rights Act was passed. They started kindergarten in schools that were almost universally white. Most were in third grade when the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education. A good number of them would complete their public education in formally segregated schools. 
Read the rest here.

Is it just me, or some of the best articles on Trumpism have been in Forbes and the Wall Street Journal.? This liberal baby boomer must be getting soft in his old age.

I am in this same cohort, those of us born in the first five years after World War II. I was born in December 1950. All of us boomers born in December of 1950 share one thing -- we were born in the same month and year. We do share some touchstones of our journey from birth to 18. Depending on who you were and where you lived, you had at least a passing knowledge of the Civil Rights struggle and Vietnam. You may have been involved in them, or blissfully ignorant. "Turbulent," they call the sixties. That term came up more than once last night in the first two segments of CNN's "1968."

Children and teens, as a rule, are focused more in school and sports and dating than they are in social justice movements. In my senior year of high school, my attention was on getting my basketball team to the state tournament, finding a date for the prom, and deciding on which college I could (or couldn't) afford. I was a good student, but not great, and a pretty good surfer. I had a car that ran most of the time. My parents were good people, but imperfect, which describes most of us humans trying to do our best. At 18, I complained about my parents to my friends. At home, I was respectful as any tormented teen.

My school was integrated, sort of. An all-white Catholic school recruited black athletes. My class of 69 had three African-Americans, two of whom were my teammates. Some of the football players were recruited from our town's all-black high school. Integration was still a few years in the future. My class also had an Iranian place-kicker and first-generation Cuban immigrant who looked more Irish than me. That was the extent of our ethnic diversity.

Ladd's Forbes article  talked about a workplace, unions, schools, churches, military -- all dominated by white males. That was our experience in our formative years. So, is it any wonder that men from the early baby boomer cohort look around, see a changing America, and freak out. And that is the cohort that turns out to vote, this time for Trump.

I am 67. I did not freak out in 2016. I am freaking out now. Racism and jingoism have returned with a vengeance. I was susceptible to these influences when I was 18. I am susceptible to them now. I choose a different path. The question remains: How did I get here?

How did we get here?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Dear White People: Columbia University wants to know what you think about the issues of the day

Columbia University's Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) wants to find out what white and partially-white folks in Cheyenne think about their role in society.

They came to the right place as Cheyenne is mostly white and partially white, ethnically speaking. The latest census figures for Laramie County, Wyoming, shows that 89 percent of the population checks the Caucasian or "white" box under the question about race.

I haven't yet received the results from DNA testing from ancestry.com, but I can attest I am probably all-white, or at least mostly white. I would love to see a percentage come back showing I am partially sub-Saharan African or Latino or Asian. But anyone can look at me and say, "Damn, I've never seen anyone so white." If I didn't have freckles where I was kissed by the sun, I would be so white that I would glow in the dark.

One more thing. I could be a little Basque on my maternal grandfather's side. He came from Ireland but had a very un-Irish name in Hett. Some genealogical research by my cousin showed that the name probably was de la Hett, possibly from the genes of a Spanish Armada sailor or maybe one of the French soldiers who occasionally ventured into Ireland to join the Irish in a doomed uprising. Ever read "The Year of the French?" I'm not giving anything away to say that it ends badly.

So I am European of the northern variety with maybe a dash of southern Europe.

Which brings me back to the Columbia University INCITE study. At the county Democratic Party convention at LCCC a few weeks ago, flyers circulated that promoted a survey for white people. Here's the basic text:
Columbia University is conducting a study here in Cheyenne on race and ethnicity, specifically about how white or partially white people think about their own race/ethnicity. If interested, you can take their survey by going to www.cheyennestudy-columbia.org/participate/ 
How could I resist? I went to the site and filled out the survey. It included questions about race, religious preference and political affiliation, among other things. I checked "none" for religion. This is a tough one for me. I do not go to church. But I spent my early life in churches and catechism classes and Catholic schools. I spent much of my adult life working hard at being a Catholic who believes in the social justice gospel. It was a losing battle. So I don't go to church. Shoot me. Fortunately, the bill to allow firearms in churches did not make it through the crackpot legislature this year. But it may in 2019.

I invite my fellow Cheyenne residents to fill out the survey. It would be fun to skew the results in favor of liberals. Imagine the eggheads at Columbia looking at their results and deciding that Cheyenne, Wyoming, was the most liberal place on the planet, more so than Boulder, Colo., and San Francisco and some of those college towns in Vermont. Wouldn't that be an eye-opener?

So take a fifteen-minute break and fill out the survey. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, May 07, 2018

A broadside is designed to get a reader's attention

Broadside published by University of Minnesota Press, 2018. 
I received a broadside in the mail this week. A broadside is a printed sheet that promotes a larger work, such as a book. Propaganda broadsides were plastered on walls throughout the colonies during the War for Independence. The London Times distributed broadsides of famous British literary works to soldiers in the World War One trenches. The idea, it seems, was that a bloke absorbed in Shelley or Wordsworth would not notice he was being blown to bits.

Some publishers still print broadsides, mainly of poetry. I have some of those from David Romtvedt and Bill Tremblay, among others. They usually are printed in support of a collection. Flash fiction is suited for broadsides but I don't know if that is a thing or not.

I received a broadside from University of Minnesota Press promoting Sheila Watt-Cloutier's book "The Right to be Cold: One Woman's Fight to Protect the Arctic and Save the Planet from Climate Change." The broadside was a prize offered to like UM Press on Facebook. I liked and I received. See the image above.

This broadside did its job. I did not know Watt-Cloutier's work until the envelope landed in my mailbox. She writes about climate change from an Inuit's point of view. The Arctic nation is almost invisible to us in The Lower 48. My knowledge of people in the Arctic centers around the term "eskimo" and all that it entails: igloos, kayaks, dog sleds, walrus-hunting, "Nanook of the North." My education on Arctic peoples comes mainly from 1950s-era National Geographic magazine which, as we all know now, was a very one-sided view of the world.

I plan on reading Watt-Cloutier's book. I will order it from UM Press. I looked through its catalog and was impressed by the scope of its publications. It includes works on an array of topics, focusing on the culture of the upper Midwest. I know as much as that region as I do about the arctic, although I have walked the intriguing streets of Minneapolis and read a number of books from excellent Twin Cities publishers Graywolf, Coffee House, and Milkweed. 

I watched a TED talk by the author. I read one of the author's postings on the UM Press blog and watched one of her TED talks. She made me see the effects of global warming on humans. We hear a lot about the effect of rising sea levels on coastal populations. When it comes to the Circumpolar Region, we hear more about polar bears than we do about the humans who have lived there for centuries. I live in a high dry climate, albeit one that will be affected by shorter winters. This will impact outdoor recreation and hunting and all of those people that depend on those for their livelihoods. But the Inuit need solid ice for their hunts. As the author says, they risk drowning by falling through the ice that once was solid beneath their feet. And efforts of environmental groups have affected their lives in real ways. It's easy for a city boy in Cheyenne to support bans on seal hunting thousands of miles away. If fact, it's easy for this non-hunter city boy to cast aspersions on hunters of the deer and antelope I see as I travel Wyoming. 

In the days of sailing ships, a naval broadside was meant to get the attention of and possibly demolish another ship. A printed broadside is meant to get your attention and educate you in the process.

This one did its work.